Rapa Nui

by Bianca Youngers

It’s such a blessing to experience a peaceful place when we are living in such chaotic world. I fought back at the lump rising in my throat as we drove down the bumpy red clay road to the airport, awaiting our flight to Santiago. The little puppy that I just fed the rest of my chips to looked longly at us as the van moved slowly away. We had fallen in love with that puppy. I daydreamed about getting him home as he clumsily jogged next to us like we were his owners on our hours-long hike the day before. While I was a little sad to leave the puppy, he was just a fraction of the lump that was forming in my throat. Part of the lump represented the sadness that this would be our last plane ride to a new destination before our trip ended. The rest of the lump represented my feelings on how much I loved Easter Island and truly not wanting to leave it. It was not an easy place to get to and I knew my chances of coming back were slim.

Rapa Nui, better known to Americans as Easter Island, is one of the most isolated places in the world. The population is a whopping 6000 and some change. There are few roads. There is nothing fancy about it. There are no super markets. Accommodations are bare bones. The cars for the most part are old, rusty, and dented. But the air is the freshest. The people are friendliest. The stars are magnificent. The ceviche is out of this world. The wild horses, dogs and cows outnumber the people. There are mysterious heads scattered throughout. But the most magnificent thing of all is the un-describable energy of the place. It is so positive, magical and mysterious.

We had planned on staying a week here on Rapa Nui, but ended up only staying for 6 nights due to a massive 23 hour delay coming from Tahiti. No problem, said the Señora that ran our little cabana. She didn’t charge us a cent for the day we missed, she was easygoing, representing the whole vibe we’d experience on this magical little island. She met us at the airport and adorned our necks with beautiful flower leis, stopping at a small tienda so we could buy water and smiled when we asked if we could find an ATM too. Stops she hadn’t anticipated, not a problem, she was happy to help. Most other places in the world would ask for a tip or tack on a charge. Not on Rapa Nui, gouging people is not something most Chileans have in mind. Not many people speak English on Rapa Nui, making it challenging and fun to practice our Spanish. Our joy for the language must have rubbed off because as when were sitting in the airport waiting for our plane to take us to Santiago, Theo asked if he could take Spanish lessons when he got home. Nash and Hadley begged too. It felt good to know that our travels weren’t all in vain.

After running our errands of getting cash and water we were dropped off at our little cabana. It was crafted with the simplest materials but was clean and the beds were comfortable enough. The afternoon sun turned the place into a sauna but we crashed despite the heat into a fitful nap, appreciating a bed after being upright with lots of waiting and flying for the last 24 hours. Waking up from our nap wasn’t easy, but we enjoyed our spectacular view as we rubbed the sleep from our eyes. The ocean was right in front of us and the navy blue waves crashed with a vengence on the sharp black volcanic rocks. The best thing were the Moai, the big heads that we all know so well. Four of them looked at us, backs facing the ocean, protecting the island from what might come. The Moai seemed to want to tell us something. I think if they could talk they’d be funny guys with baritone voices. They might ask for a drink or if it was okay to help us BBQ the semi-fresh meat that we found after scouring several small bodegas. They sat with us at sunset for 6 nights, the pink clouds making it look like they were swirled in cotton candy. It was a peaceful feeling. They sat with me when I woke up in the morning too, never moving, just watching me drink coffee and swing in the basket chair on our porch. One of the poor fellows was face down in the grass. I always felt bad for him when I walked by. If he could talk he would tell me he’s okay. His voice would also be a baritone but maybe with a slight Eeyore quality to him. He’d still be polite though, and ask how was I doing? He’d sense that I was worried about him, lying face down in the grass. He’d say that he was fine and not to worry. I’d still worry, but worrying won’t change things.

That night we wandered up to a restaurant just a few paces from my stone friends. They watched us eat dinner. The twins shared baby back ribs with roasted sweet potatoes. Theo had a steak. And Justin and I had the most marvelous ceviche we have ever had in our lives. That night and for the next six nights we slept with the doors open, listening to the waves crash on the rocks, the rain coming down (only at night) in sheets on the tin roof, the clopping of the horses and the dogs barking in a frenzy, moving the horses down the road. I slept like a baby on Rapa Nui.

The next day we decided to rent a car. It was old and dented and got us where we needed to go. It was a splurge at $100 for 24 hours but it’s the only way to explore the island without an expensive tour. Our first stop was at one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We packed a picnic of ham, cheese, tomato and avocado sandwiches. Hadley chirped with glee as she fed the little baby chicks that roamed the park. Turns out they like the same things we like, our scraps were not wasted. Not only was the ocean gorgeous, but there were more stone men adding to the mystery of the landscape. They had an equal demeanor as our friends by our cabana. They faced inland backs to the ocean, protecting us with their strong spirits.

There are over 900 Moai on Rapa Nui. The idea behind them is that they embody the personality of a chief that has died. The mystery about them remains unsolved. How did they get to where they are? You can’t imagine the enormity of these guys. The biggest being 3 stories high. They were all carried from a quarry far away and placed all over the island. Some archeologists think that they were rolled on logs. Others dispute that and say that they were put into place standing, using a rocking motion to get them to where they are. From what I gather the population of Rapa Nui for whatever reason plummeted down to 100 people. What happened?

The most awe-inspiring is the quarry. The quarry is a big mountain that they harvested the stone for the Moai. Lots of Moai still lay half-carved in the mountainside and are scattered all around. Many are face down, others tilt at awkward angles. The hillside has decayed over the years, partially covering the men. This is where the whole idea of the guys having bodies came from. They aren’t any different than the other guys on the island. They have just been covered up a bit. These stone guys never made it to their final destination. They will forever stay where they are. What is it that stopped civilization? It’s hard to not compare Rapa Nui to the Lorax. I wonder if Dr. Suess visited this remote island? It’s a mystery that keeps the world intrigued. The present day mystery in my mind was this: How are there so many dogs on this island and no dog poop? I saw one turd the entire time I was there.

We spent the rest of our days driving the island. Pondering the mysteries. Scouring for food to BBQ and eating raw fish when we were too lazy to cook. I did a lot of reflecting about our year away. Anxiety about returning home started to creep in. Rapa Nui will always be a spiritual place for me for so many different reason. I can’t explain them but that seems par for the course.

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NZ

by Justin

The Asians I’m bunking with are up late playing cards. I fit in my berth lengthwise pretty well but widthwise there’s a ladder to the upper bunks right where my shoulders are. I should probably turn around and put my feet the other way, opposite the curtain to the rest of the quad bunk rooms, but it might ruin the whole feng shui of the place. This is the lower deck of the ship, obviously. I’ve had a little beer and a little whiskey and a little dessert, and that combination is never good, so I’m hoping I sleep okay tonight, but I know I won’t. The kids and Bianca are in the quad across the hall and they will probably hear me each time I get up to use the bathroom, along with everyone else down here. Like I say, there’s only curtains separating the bunks from the hallway. The room of showers is like college. The sea toilets say no condoms, though, and I don’t really see how folks would be getting busy in curtained-off quads anyways, but that’s what the sign says. Most of the passengers are older white people, and they’ve all afforded the upper deck double rooms. Me and my family are down here in steerage, but they don’t make berths for five, so I’m with strangers. Coffee is on at 6 tomorrow morning, and anchors are up at 6:30. I’m turning in with the hopes of being up for those things.

Alright, nap’s over. Morning now. The engines are rumbling.

Had to stop writing. Only three sentences! Somebody came over and talked to me. A nice guy I met. That’s the perils of not being a hermit.

Alright, let’s try this again. I’m at an airport hotel now, the family is asleep. Through the window there’s nothing but parked cars. Somebody forgot to restock the free coffee so I’m working on a cup of English Breakfast tea, which is disappointing. But the room is big enough to find a corner to myself and write on the computer. I’ve had to try and use the iPhone lately and it doesn’t work as well sometimes. Hammertyping out words on a delicate, tiny little touchscreen keyboard just doesn’t work the same way that doing it on a full-size keyboard does. I used to try and write on an old typewriter, a manual one, where you really had to hit the letters to make the thing work, especially if you were cheap and let the ink run too low. It lets out different feelings.

Five days ago we landed in Christchurch on the South Island, picked up a car, and drove it on the left-hand side of the road down to Te Anau, stopping to overnight in two little towns along the way, including at the base of Mt. Cook, which is where Hillary trained for Everest, but is only barely taller than the highest mountain in Oregon.

New Zealand is a lot like Oregon, actually, which maybe wouldn’t make it interesting to fly across the world to see, but sure is great to touch down in for six days on a world tour and get a dose of home.

“I like it here,” Bianca said. “I like going back in time.”

Countries seem to have their own colors. Maybe they pick them when the set them up, put the government in place, stitch up a flag, paint the scenery. This one has pastel Caribbean blues in the mountains from the meltwater and mossy dark greens in the trees. There are volcanic grey rocks, which is a lot of different colors, really, and there’s gunmetal browns, if there is such a thing. It’s fall so the trees are turning illuminated orange, but they look to have needles for leaves, at least from the car, and they’re shaped like a pine tree. They’re not looking evergreen to me, but dendrology is a wormhole, so I’ll leave it at unknown wonderment. There’s also green evergreens intermixed, so the place isn’t totally bonkers. There are sheep everywhere, more sheep than people in New Zealand Theo says, and this time of year the sheep are the color of dirty grass, and the grass is the color of dirty sheep. What a great place it would be to be a wolf!

Driving through the fog when “In The Air Tonight” comes on the radio is eerie in any country, and it doesn’t help when the twins are reading in the backseat. It was just so quiet back there I had to keep checking to make sure we didn’t forget them somewhere. Hadley looked up once and asked what town we were in even though Bianca, Theo, and I had been talking about the town’s weird name for ten minutes. She was lost in her books.

When we got to our boat it was raining hard and we boarded quickly. The boat has three masts, holds 72 tourists, and departs every day for an overnight trip into Doubtful Sound, which is so far down on the map I had to take a screenshot of the blue dot. We were on the second-to-last trip of the season, and the rain would turn to snow in the night, and on the bus ride back to our car after our night at sea we would stop and build a snowman on the pass. But that’s getting ahead of myself.

The rain was actually good in that it made waterfalls everywhere along the fiord walls. They spell fjord with an “i” down here so I guess I’ll type it that way. I’m so local.

We were looking up at the walls of mountains now. On our drive it was looking out, or across, which always gets me stirred up the most, but now it’s up. It was like somebody built them as steep as they possibly could but they wouldn’t quite stay upright if they were perfectly vertical so they gave them a slight concave curve with their giant hand and called it good.

The rainwater would ski down the steep sides in thin toothpick lines. Most are temporary waterfalls, only around when it rains. So we’re lucky in a way. They look temporary, too, like each stream is brand new, because they don’t seem to flow at the lowest point of gravity, they just flow. At higher elevations the white snow would stick to either side of the stream, and the stream looked black, and at lower elevations the water itself would be white against the walls of moss and trees and liverworts. It was slightly black and green and brown with tannins by the time it reached the bottom and that gave the soundwater a darkness and mysteriousness usually reserved for much deeper depths. Apparently the sea life reflects that, too. The black coral and the sea pens are found far shallower than normal around here.

The fiord walls are mostly granite and the trees can barely get a foothold. The roots grow out, not down, and they weave their way into surface cracks, and then the other trees weave their way into those roots, and they all mat themselves together and hang from the side like curtains. When the rains really soak the place, and the weight becomes too much, and when one tree breaks, they all go tumbling down in what must be an awesome and violent thing to see. A tree avalanche. There are scars everywhere from previous ones. Some have mossed over in the first steps of regeneration but some are still just exposed stripes of rock, a few trees wide, and a few hundred feet high.

At our farthest point out, closest to the open churning ocean, some of our fellow passengers went out onto the bow deck and played in the wind, which looked foolish, but then we tried it and it was fun. The captain eventually had to stop short and turn us around. It was too windy and rough. “The old girl’s rocking around a bit,’ he said. We watched from the bridge as he moved the giant boat with a little video-game-sized joystick.

For a while there the sign on the ship’s bar read “Closed whilst at sea.” Seems to me, as a bar owner, that that’s the time when the bar should be open! But, whatever, it’s nothing a little duty free whiskey snuck onboard inside Bianca’s blue Kleen Kanteen can’t fix. I guess you can add that to the things we’ve taught the kids this year. Sneaking in whiskey. Yikes.

When we got back to the the dock, after my rough night’s sleep, my rough night’s nap, there was snow on it, and there was more snow up at the pass where we built that snowman, and then we drove into Queenstown and stayed at a nice hotel that we booked with points. The view was incredible the next morning, and the airport was right in the valley, and we took off over the lake and there were freshly whitened rows of mountains on either side of us, and lots of blue sky. We made it out of the snow just fine, and now, today, the sun is up, the kids will wake up soon, and we’ll head back to the airport in Auckland for our flight to Papeete, which has been delayed by a airport firefighter’s strike, but hopefully will still happen. I’ve been checking my phone and my email for updates. When we arrive there it will be late and we’ll have to overnight somewhere before we catch the ferry to Moorea. Our place in Moorea will be our ninth different hotel in nine nights. I’m looking forward to a week of stillness there.

Only six weeks left now.

Greetings from the road…..

Japan

by Theo Youngers

Weird. Weird is the kind of word people look at in the wrong way. They look at it like it is a bad horrible thing. But it’s not. Weird is good. The people who are the weirdest are the most unique. The most interesting. It’s good to be weird. One of Portland’s mottos is “Keep Portland Weird,” and who ever made that up knows what weird actually means. Because Portland is a weird place, it’s unique. And just like Portland, Japan is weird too. It is incredibly weird. It’s different. It’s unique.

The streets of Japan are small.  They are barely big enough for two average cars to drive past each other side by side and not touch. But the good thing is that the cars are small. So small that my brother and sister are almost taller than them. They have tiny teeny little wheels that aren’t made for driving long distances. The cars usually only have a total of two doors instead of the average of four. They are boxed shaped. Yes, in Japan there are lots of cubed toasters driving everywhere (except they are not experts on toasting your toast).  They are also almost all made by Toyota. Small cars, small streets, even the commercial buildings are small and cubed. So now you have small cars, small streets, small buildings, cubed cars, cubed buildings, it’s like a small Lego Duplo world, miniature and cubed. And just like the small commercial buildings you have small houses. Ummm… not really small houses, more like tiny houses. Our average sized traditional Japanese apartment in Kyoto (southernish Japan, near Osaka) was tiny! It had a small kitchen with no counter space and limited small appliances. We had a tiny dining/ living room with a table that tightly fit three and a half people. And on the second floor, up super steep stairs (a cross between a ladder and stairs) were two, more like one, bedrooms with just enough space for five Japanese futons (which are like camping pads on the floor).  So it was really cramped and pretty uncomfortable. Well, except for the bathroom.

The bathroom was two rooms. One for the bath tub & shower and one for the toilet. The room with the shower was huge. It was just like one huge shower. The room with the toilet…. Ooooh! Oh boy the toilet was my favorite! Our house only had two small heaters, so the house was usually cold and the bathroom was always freezing, but the toilet seat was heated so when you used the bathroom you could be warm from the toilet. But the bad thing was that it made people want to stay on the toilet forever!

Our small traditional house was cool but too cramped. In Kyoto, we stayed in a small neighborhood near a famous shrine called Fushimi Inari, the fox temple.  A temple/ shrine which sits at the base of the mountain Inari. From the temple you can walk on a peaceful path that goes under hundreds of orange torii’s (a traditional Japanese gate)

and weaves it way not only to the top of the mountain but also to other smaller shrines. We did the hike multiple times. We also adventured further into the center of the city and went to the geisha district. Geishas are traditional entertainers that dress up in kimonos and wear the white makeup. Unfortunately they are very rare to see. We saw a glimpse of one crossing the street in downtown Kyoto but not in the geisha district.

All over Japan are little capsule machines, inside of them are really cool Japanese toys. There are everything from food, to cats, to miniature people. Kyoto was probably the highlight of Japan. We stayed there for one week.

Everyday in Kyoto we would take the local train. In Japan everyone uses the train system. It’s like one large metro for the whole country. Everyday we would head over a few blocks and head to the Fushimi Inari station. From there we would get on the “local” train to Kyoto’s main station, and catch another train to wherever we wanted to go. The morning we checked out we did the same. We went to the small station by our apartment, Fushimi Inari, then we get on the train and got off at the Kyoto station. That day we were heading to Tokyo. Tokyo was way farther north then Kyoto, they were approximately 800 miles apart. It would take ages if we took the local train, so we were taking the Japanese bullet train: the Shinkansen. Reaching up to 200 miles per hour. We could get to Tokyo in no time.

The Shinkansen was very long. It was white on the outside with one long blue stripe that went from the beginning of the train to the end. The beginning and end were this weird bullet shape that helped it go faster. The inside was just like a airplane, sort of. It had more leg space and was less claustrophobic, but it looked like an airplane. It was two seats by three which was perfect for a family of five. The windows were smallish. They were round like a airplane window. Throughout the ride I felt like I was watching a time lapse video. Everything was moving by so fast. We passed by multiple big cities and Mount Fuji. And in no time we were in Tokyo. That was a cool way to get from south Japan to north.

Tokyo was a large city. Huge. We had lodging problems so for our one-week stay we were bouncing back and forth on trains, hopping from one hotel to another. We went to the worlds busiest pedestrian intersection. When the lights for the cars turned red hundreds (more like thousands) of people would cross the street. There were five cross walks, one of them was diagonal but the whole street had people in it, so it was just like one big crosswalk. Yes, we crossed it. Nash got a video on my dad’s shoulders but it happened to be upside down. We also went to a part of the city that was one big arcade. Every building was filled with video games, not only new ones but classics too. Floors of people were playing video games. There were also claw machines, hundreds of them. And of course many capsule machines. One place had over six hundred capsule machines. We also somehow ended up at Tokyo Disneyland for three days…

Japan was amazing. I liked everything about it. It was so different from Asia.  From the world. I didn’t really know a place like that even existed until we got there. I loved how unique everything was. How weird. It was a strange place. A must visit place. An awesome place.

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Tokyo DisneySea

by Nash Youngers

All I’ve been thinking about is Disneyland. After Kyoto we went to Tokyo and when we were in China we were surprised when our parents told us we could go to Tokyo Disneyland. I was SUPER excited. Our hotel was called the Oriental Tokyo Bay Hotel. We checked into our hotel and went to bed. I did not sleep well because my pillow was stiffer than a rock and we were going to Disneyland which made me very excited. We woke up happier than can be and jumped everywhere. We went down to a mini mart called Lawson’s, and got sandwiches and mini croissants for breakfast. Then we waited in line and got on the bus and went to Tokyo Disney Sea. Once we got off the bus we all realized that there was at least 50,000 people there. It was crowded. We got into the park and we ran to a ride called, Journey to The Center of The Earth. It was in a man made volcano that erupts. We got there and the line was already 80 minutes long. Everybody needed to use the bathroom and when we got out of the bathroom the line was 120 minutes long. Journey to The Center of The Earth doesn’t have single rider. Single rider is where you get into a special line and fill slots in the carts. You have to sit next to a stranger. People don’t use single rider in Tokyo. We did. All the rides were in Japanese so that kinda sucked but it was funny too. Tiny parts were in English. When I rode Indiana Jones by myself everyone was giggling and screaming. Indiana Jones was just like the one in LA but it was called Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. It had a big entry where you were trying to steal the skull but then it sent you on a scary path.

Our second ride was Jasmine’s Flying Carpets, which was one of the rides that you spun around in a circle and you pressed a button that made you go higher and lower. After that we went on a ride that was called Sin Bad’s Story Book Voyage. At one point in the ride you went into a dancing monkey room and it smelled like sugar bananas. On the streets of that land it smelled like camel poo, for real. They also sold all sorts of different kinds of popcorn in Tokyo Sea, milk chocolate, curry, salt and pepper, salt and sea weed, soy sauce, normal salt, and caramel popcorn. Everyone wore popcorn containers around their necks made out of different Disney characters.

The lands in Tokyo Disney Sea were, Port Discovery, Mediterranean Harbor, Arabian Coast, The Lost River Delta, Mermaid Lagoon, American Waterfront, and The Mysterious Island. When we were there it was the 16th Anniversary and it was really busy. They had a play that people waited for all day. Then we rode a ride called Watertopia. You couldn’t drive it so that was too bad and all it did was make you dizzy. After that we got fast passes for a ride called Raging Spirits. A fast pass is where you almost get to skip to the very front of the line and go in front of everybody. You can get one on certain hours. Next we got lunch at a place called El Dorado. It was a taco place, yummy yummy. Then we used our valuable fast pass for Journey To The Center Of The Earth. The regular line was 4 hours and 30 minutes!! We took a really cool elevator down and it was actually shaking when you went down. Then we waited in a 10 minute line to get onto the cars. Once we got on the cars you start off in a place called the Crystal Caves. Then you went to Mushroom Forests. There is a huge dragon type thing that blows you down a cliff and into caverns and then it ended. We all thought it would be a lot longer and agreed we wouldn’t wait 4 hours to ride it again.

After that we went to Ariel’s play place and rode a rollercoaster called Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster. Hadley and I thought it was funny hearing the adults scream because it was such a small ride. Then we rushed to get fast passes for a ride called Tower of Terror. If we would have gotten there one minute late we wouldn’t have got fast passes. We got the last ones for 9:30pm and the park closed at 10pm. Next we rode Indiana Jones twice with single rider.

It was time to ride Two Thousand League Under the Sea with our fast passes. On Two Thousand Leagues Under the Sea you were in a submarine, looking at underwater animatronics. There were giant electric squids that would rattle your carts. There were also weird underwater aliens. Then we went to a place called Fortress Explorers. You would walk around pressing buttons and they would make things play music, pop out of the wall and stuff like that. Dad thought the fire alarm was a button that made something happen. He pressed the fire alarm 20 times. We told him to stop and that it wasn’t a interactive button. The fire alarm went off, it was quiet thankfully. We all laughed. We rushed out of there and got a fast pass for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I really wanted to go back on Journey of The Center of The Earth but it was a 5 hour line. I told a line manager that our family really wanted to go on the ride and we’ve come all the way from America. She said, “uhhhhh, fast pass”? I said, “yes please”. She just started saying, “uhhhhh”, so I walked off. I regret not taking it because I felt shy.

After that we rode Indiana Jones single rider, and also rode Sin Bad’s Storybook Voyage again. We walked to a play called Big Band Beat. It was people playing the drums and a tuba. It was with Mickey, Daisy, Donald and all the normal Disney characters dancing. Mickey and Minnie kept kissing which I found a little disturbing. At the end Mickey played a drum solo. It was time to eat again. We got burgers and all thought they were terrible. We made our way with full bellies to Raging Spirits which is a normal rollercoaster but it has a loopy loop in it. Everybody but Hadley went on it. Our Dad was almost too tall to ride it. They measured him. There was a sign that said you couldn’t be over a certain height to ride it. We all felt really dizzy when we got off of it.

Then our tired bodies walked all the way over to Tower of Terror which was on the other side of the park. Once we got onto Tower of Terror it had a whole other theme than LA’s ride. It was about someone named Mr. High Tower who is an archeologist. He found a mystical statue in a remote part of Africa. He was going up the elevator to meet his friends but the elevator stopped and crashed. They recovered the mystical statue but not Mr. Hightower. Hadley did not go on Tower of Terror. It was not scary for me but it made me dizzy. I don’t know why it made me dizzy? I’m always very sad every time I leave Disneyland but this time we are going to come back in three days. I am happy that I get to go back.

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Food Tour in Vietnam

by Hadley Youngers

As we rode down the elevator in Vietnam we all had butterflies in our stomachs. Why? Because we were going on a Vietnamese motorbike food tour. We were with our cousins, Hank and Sophia, our Aunty Nicole and her boyfriend Don. We met them down in the lobby. Soon, two nice ladies walked up to us wearing white shiny Vietnamese dresses with blue pants called Ao Dais. We walked outside and saw 7 more ladies, 11 motorbikes and a couple more guys with cameras, they were going to film our night. One of the ladies came up and told us some rules that we had to follow on the motorbike. Boys had to hold onto the back handle of the motorbike and girls/children had the choice to hold on to the woman or the handle. They wouldn’t let Theo hold onto the woman. And they said always get on and off on the left hand side. I didn’t need to worry about that because she always lifted me off. We got paired up with our Ladies and our motorbikes. I got a nice girl with red glasses. Soon we were getting our helmets on and it started to rain. We had to take off our helmets and put on our rain ponchos. We put our helmets back on and climbed onto the motorbikes. Actually she lifted me up and put me on the motorbike. We pulled out of the driveway and got onto the street. I thought to myself here we go, don’t let your flipflop fall off. The rain beat down on me. Zoom, motorbikes and cars would drive fast in front of you.

Soon we got to our first stop. We took off our rain ponchos and sat down. All the walls were red and the tables were wooden. We sat down on stools. A guy came up and told us his name, I don’t remember it, he said he would be our guide for the night. After awhile they brought us ice tea and a big bowl of soup. On the table there were three small plates, one was filled with banana leaves, one had cabbage, and one had chili sauce. You were suppose to put them into your soup. The soup had bean sprouts, tofu meat thingy things, noodles, and red and yellow looking broth. I took a sip. It was oily but good. After most of the soup was gone, we got back on the motorbikes. No more rain jackets!!!

We started to drive and my lady said we were going to Chinatown next. We took a stop, not a food stop. We were in the middle of Chinatown. Our guide took out an iPad looking thing and showed us some pictures because he wanted us to know how high they could stack things on motorbikes. The first motorbike was carrying a lot of chickens tied in a net made out of ropes. I had seen that before once of twice. The second one was carrying plastic kitchen stools and buckets stacked high, big, fat and bunchy. The third was one big black bag bigger than 3 or 4 motorbikes, it wasn’t even tied down. The driver was barely holding onto it trying to balance. It could have been anything inside. We put our helmets back on and drove to a bbq restaurant.

The bbq place had red chairs and wood tables that were really long. They drove us up into the restaurant, parked their motorbikes inside and we sat down. They brought a tiny bbq and put it on the table along with some herbs. One of the herbs was called fish lips. The lady said it tasted like fish. Dad and Nash tried it. Nash made a bad face, he said it does taste like fish. Soon they brought out raw goat and put it on the table. They held the goat with chopsticks to cook it on the bbq and then put it on our plates. The goat was really chewy. Next came two sauces. They gave the kids lime and black pepper. They gave the adults salt, pepper and chili. They also cooked steak. After the steak was ready they put it on our plate. They told us to dip it in the sauces. It was REALLY good. Next came the frog. They cooked it on the bbq and it got all dry. Some of the frog had skin on it and some didn’t. I said I was not going to try the frog. Then our guide brought out french fries with sugar and butter for the kids. He told us to dip the french fries in the butter and sugar. It was ok. As some of the shrimp was cooking one of the girls announced that we were going to play a game with chopsticks. I don’t know how to use chopsticks. After eating the fishy shrimp they taught us how to play the game. The game was to put peanuts into a cup. Your lady would put the nut on your chopstick and you had to drop it into the cup. She kind of taught us how to use the chopsticks. Soon Nash and I played against each other. I was nervous and happy. I got 5 and Nash got 6 nuts in the cup. He won a button that said Chopstick Champion. Dad also won and gave me his Chopstick Champion button. Then my girl came up to me and pulled out her phone and we took a selfie. We got back onto the motorbikes and drove onto a busy street. Somebody came up close to me and their foot hit my foot. It didn’t hurt. The camera guy came us to us on the motorbike, we smiled at the camera. My motorbike girl asked me what my name was and how old I was.

We were at the last stop. It was a seafood restaurant. The restaurant was outside and it was blue and white. They brought out crab claws, scallops, Vietnamese pancakes, quail, and an egg. First I tried the crab claws. It tasted like egg. It was pretty good. Then I tried the scallops. “How is it?” my girl asked. I said it tastes like hamburger. Dad said I should try the Vietnamese pancake. It was covered in pork floss and dried shrimp, so I didn’t try it. I tried the quail and it tasted like chicken. Then one of the girls asked if we were ready for the egg. I said I didn’t want the egg. Nash didn’t want to try it either. Theo, Mom and Dad tried the egg. The problem with the egg was that it was a duck egg and the duck was still inside the egg. It was a brown baby duck with feathers and bones. The whole thing was in there. They scooped out the head for Theo and he ate the whole thing, eyeballs and all. Nash cried. They brought out some dessert. One of the desserts was GOOD egg pudding. The other dessert was coconut jello. The jello was cooked in the coconut. It was clear but it had the white part of the coconut on the edge of the jello. After we ate our desserts we clicked on our helmets. The motorbike drive to our hotel went fast. I was sad to leave. When we arrived to the hotel my girl picked me up and spun me around in her arms. We gave each other hugs. I had fun on the motorbike food tour in Vietnam.

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Borneo

by Bianca Youngers

Traveling to Borneo/Kalimintan is something that I have been dreaming about ever since I was a little girl and my Papa, my Mom’s Dad, would tell me about his time in the jungles of Borneo. It sounded exotic and adventurous. I would stare at his map full of pins wishing I was with him. I knew someday I had to go. Our someday was here. We were going to go into the jungle in search of orangutans and proboscis monkeys. I knew it would be a challenge but when you plan it so far in advance it’s easy to be brave. I had compartmentalized how extreme this adventure might be. Now that the time was fast approaching I had some serious butterflies. After learning from our rural China adventure, we crammed Justin’s backpack full of snacks from a well stocked mini mart in Vietnam. We downed our Malaria pills as instructed by the CDC website and armed ourselves with bottles of bug spray. We were as prepared as we could get, the rest was out of our hands.

Getting there was no easy feat. We flew from Vietnam to Jakarta and checked into an airport hotel for the night. It was just before midnight when we finally tucked into bed. We decided against dinner, all agreeing that a handful of cashews would tide us over until morning and that sleep was more important than sitting down for a meal. As I shut my eyes I imaged the parent of the year award was certainly not going to me. Sleep found us all quickly. We woke up early, managed a quick breakfast, and hurried to catch another flight at 6am to the small town of Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia.

After a hard landing on the small runway we were there. Our guide met us as promised, and wasting no time he escorted us to two dilapidated blue taxis. Theo, Hadley and I climbed into one and Justin and Nash went with the guide in the other. We sat in a jet-lagged silence as we bounced around in the back of the cab, no seat belts, sweat soaking my silk pink scarf I had bought in India, turning my Sri Lankan pant skirt thing with butterflies much darker than it’s original color. My pants covered my legs and my scarf covered my shoulders, trying to be respectful to the mostly Muslim population. The humidity was 100%. The call to prayer echoed as we passed brightly colored mosques. Hadley’s head jerked up and down in the back of the cab as she caught small bits of sleep. The houses were shacks, the soil made for poor farming. Palm oil factories were the major source of income and destruction.

As we pulled up to the boat we were met by the Fardi, the owner. I had a hard time verbalizing his name with out smirking. I’m so immature. We needed to pay for our trip and give him our passports so he could ask permission from the government for our voyage. In the meantime we ran around the village in the pouring rain to the two and only banks in search of exchanging our dollars for Rupiah, reminding us of our backpacker days in Africa when we would spend hours cashing in our travelers checks. The clerks smiled at the kids while the security guard filled the bowl of candy and took pictures. They never gave us candy in Africa. After we settled the bill with Fardy, giggle giggle, he suggested we buy some supplies to give out to the kids in a village we would be visiting later in the week. We settled on notebooks and pens. The government had relocated the village to some swamp land across the river to help protect the orangutans when they turned it into a National Park. The gifts were a peace offering of sorts? It is massively important to protect this endangered species and massively sad to see the living conditions in which the tribe now live. The conditions of the village were beyond desperate. The village men had been known to set fires in the National Park due to the frustration of their circumstances. The flat farmable land they used to have versus the swamp land they now had seemed to be a cruel joke. I felt horrible walking through that village and immediately wished we hadn’t. Some solutions just aren’t fair. We handed out the note books and pens to the kids in the village. Our kids did their best making sure everyone got only one and shrugged it off when they were tricked into giving away two to the same person. Who could blame them. I left deflated and sad despite the smiles and exuberance of the kids. Their showers, laundry, and kitchen sinks were sun damaged wooden planks over a mucky creek, soap hanging from rusty nails, faded shampoo bottles melted in the sun, kids bathed, hiding their privates from the foreigners eyes. The men did not smile. The woman pushed to make sure their child received their gifts. We walked down the path noticing how out of place the freshly painted benches and lamp posts looked. The National Park and guides were required to donate something yearly to keep tensions at bay. Anything I had to complain about will always be put into perspective after witnessing the way this tribe was forced to survive. The land was a swamp that flooded when it rained, which was most days, making a hard situation even worse. Growing crops, somethings that was once viable just across the way was out of the question now because of the floods. We watched as they dipped their bamboo poles into the crocodile infested water, trying to adapt to their new reality.

Once we had all the logistics settled we loaded our things onto the boat and we were off. Our boat was wooden with two stories, the crew lived below and we lived above. I can’t describe the feeling of peace that flowed through my veins sitting on that boat, the twins swinging in the hammocks that had been strung, Theo reading a book, Justin and I grinning. We had been in big cities for so long I had forgotten what un-frenzied living was like. All my fears and worst case scenarios about the trip dissipated. I was elated. Straight away we saw proboscis monkeys swinging in the trees. The only place in the world you can find these odd looking creatures. Their noses are so big that sometimes the males have to pull them up in order to feed themselves. They have two stomachs, one to digest greens and insects, the other to digest the poisonous fruit that only this species of monkey is able to digest. When we found a troop of these funny little guys the crew would tie the boat up and we would watch the monkeys do monkey things. At one point two females starting fighting over a big male that was wearing what looked like a really nice fur coat that he could take off. I imagined him loaning it to me. I would look very fashionable in his coat with a long skirt and a pair of clunky boots. My thoughts were interrupted when one of the females grabbed a hold of her friend and threw her from the tree.  We all gasped as she fell at least two stories into the mangroves below. Our guide said most likely she didn’t survive. The kids faces were horrified. We just stared in disbelief. A minute or so later we heard a rustling in the bushes below and all cheered as she slowly made her way back up the tree, sitting on the sidelines this time, back turned away from us.

Dr. Birute Galdikas and Rod Brindamour have been studying these orangutans since the 70s. Dr. Galdikas, a mentor of Jane Goodall, is the thread that holds the National Park together these days and fights hard to save these miraculous animals from losing their home to the greedy destructive palm oil plantations. Dr. Galdika is also 73 and our guide voiced his fears that when she dies the orangutans may suffer the same fate. I pray that someone will step in and take her place. Everyday in the morning and the afternoon we would hike into the jungle in search of the orangutans. It’s hot in that jungle, 100% humidity. Our guide filled his backpack with water bottles before we took off through the thick jungle. We doused ourselves in bug spray, wore long pants, and socks with tennis shoes. We trekked until we could see the orangutans swinging through the trees. The first time I saw them my eyes filled with tears. They didn’t look real. They looked like an overweight man in a furry suit. By the time we found them we were soaked, a common theme it seems. Mosquitos surrounded us and sweat dripped down our legs, arms, backs, and faces. But none of that mattered. We were watching orangutans swing in the trees!!! The National Park had placed wooden planks in the jungle and two times a day men would strap baskets on their backs, dumping treats of bananas, sweet potatoes, and sugar cane for these furry beasts to snack on. The men would holler loudly deep into the jungle so the orangutans would know it was snack time. On some treks we saw only a couple orangutans but one day we saw around a dozen. Some were shyer than others. Once a big male dominated the scene as the females salivated from the trees. A few brave ladies hesitantly snuck down, quickly loading up on treats and getting the heck out of dodge. We all giggled when they greedily scampered down to the snacks and stuffed their big mouths with rows of bananas, it looked like something straight out of a cartoon. They would load one arm as full as they could, climb back up the tree and munch away, losing treats often to the jungle floor. You could hear the thud of peels and skin drop when they hit the ground. Sometimes we had to move to the side to avoid a urine shower. I could have watched them all day but the kids got antsy sitting in the heat and the mosquitos didn’t help. Every now and then I’d dump water over Nash’s head to buy some more time with these furry marvels but soon the kids had had enough and we’d trek back to the boat. On a couple of occasions an orangutan would stop and sit in our path, preventing us from passing. I loved it when that happened. My favorite though is when a big old Mama with a wandering eye and a baby clinging to her side lumbered right up to me, mouths stuffed with sticks of sugar cane. I knew I should move but I froze. My reaction time was crap. They were less than a 1 foot from me. Our guide kept telling me to move back, seemingly in slow mo. The orangutans just wanted to perch in the tree above me. I think it was the smell that finally snapped me out of it. I moved back to clear a path. Later Justin showed me the video he took. We all laughed.

We took all our meals on the boat. The crew chopped veggies day and night, using a mortar and pestle to blend the herbs in the curries. We felt guilty when we didn’t eat things that weren’t hot but they only smiled and cooked more. We could hear the dishes being washed in the river along with their laundry. Sometimes we could hear them playing guitar down below, they seemed just as happy and content as we felt. Occasionally someone had to jump in the crocodile infested water to untangle the prop from the water lilies. It didn’t shake their moods. They took turns and laughed hard when they weren’t the ones that had to dive under the boat and fix the problem. It made me nervous every time I heard a splash. We were reminded several times that under no circumstance were we allowed to swim in the river and that tourists had gone missing. I’m glad I didn’t have to take a turn untangling the prop.

Our guide liked to tell stories of “dumb” things tourists did. Like the Germans that let their kids run wild, stealing food from the kitchen, the cooks unable to keep up with their antics. The same kids stuck a stick in the engine, sending the entire crew to the engine room frantic when smoke started pouring out. Or the Russians that refused to believe they couldn’t swim in the river, even though our guide repeatedly told them about how the water is infested with crocodiles. Finally our guide made them each sign their name on a piece of paper where he had written that they could be eaten by a crocodile and he wasn’t responsible if they died. He said the Chinese and the Russian tourists all came with cameras the size of buckets, not just one but several strapped to their bodies like machine guns. He also told us of a french kid Nash and Hadley’s age that jumped off the boat before they even tied up, ran right up to an orangutan, took both its cheeks in his hands and squeezed it with a left right motion of you are too cute to be true. Our guide had to challenge the orangutan, that also had a baby, with big body motions, saving the little Frenchy from being mauled. I’m sure he’ll tell the story of the time the American Mom was sitting on the deck of the boat and how how the crew came up to let the family finish watching the proboscis monkeys and how the Mom didn’t know they were all standing there and she farted so loud and long they couldn’t contain their laughter. I’m sure he’ll say that he didn’t know white people could turn so red.

At night time the crew would feed us dinner by candlelight. I’m sure we all ate added protein as the bugs zoomed through the flicker of the flame, landing on our plate to meet their death by fire or drowning in some curry sauce. They would light bug coils to help us be more comfortable. They converted our deck into a bedroom at night, hanging mosquito nets over the mattresses. The breeze that the darkness brought was much needed relief from the relentless sun in the day. I slept like a baby with the noises of the jungle lulling me to sleep. We were up at first light and the days flew by, too fast. Most of our snacks in Justin’s pack remained untouched. My butterflies of the nervous variety were a thing of the past. I will never ever forget the orangutans of Borneo/Kalimantan. I felt proud sitting on the bow of that boat with my kids. I thought of my Papa that travelled the world and inspired me to do the same. I thought about the story my Mom would tell about him sitting somewhere on a boat in Borneo all those years ago. She said he had crocodiles tied up outside of his room, that’s what they ate for dinner back when my Papa went to Borneo. I wonder what my Grandchildren will eat if they ever make it to Borneo? Will they be able to tell their Grandchildren about the orangutans of Borneo/Kalimitan? I hope so.

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China, Part 2

by Bianca Youngers

Every time we are out and about in China I am floored by something new and strange that I see. Like the guy that was shoveling all the snow from the very small pile that was stacked neatly in the corner, out of the way. The guy with the shovel was taking the snow from the neat pile and shoveling it back onto the sidewalk, sprinkling it right where thousands of people were walking. I’ve walked through markets and seen strange baby bottles full of yogurt with dry ice steaming out from under them, giving them the effect they were cold and fresh. I was disappointed when Justin wouldn’t buy one and do as the locals do, sucking away like an infant. I’m also still confused about the lack of heat in the rural areas. Actually, most areas in China don’t have heat. Not only do they not heat things, they also don’t turn on any lights. It’s as if the government doesn’t allow it? Just a guess at first until a tour guide told me something along these lines. It’s hard to get the whole story. The same tour guide told me if you protest or speak out about the government you will be thrown into a concrete room for 24-48 hours. If you offend a second time it could be worse. The third time will result in execution. Needless to say, our guide didn’t give many details on anything regarding the Chinese Government. In fact when visiting a communist country everything is under a veil. As a traveller I want to dig deeper, know more, but the Chinese won’t go there. Anything that has to do with commerce is lit up like a Christmas tree though, teaming with LED lights blinking and flashing, flashing and blinking. Come into my freezing business, light up a cigarette and throw your food on the floor. Last night after coming back, ironically, from a light show, less than 1/8 of the buildings had any lights on. The ones that did made the room flicker a dim pea green, making their living rooms looked like holding cells. In fairness 1/2 of the buildings aren’t even finished so how could they be lit? Big shells of concrete blocks just left empty. Are they going to be filled or have they been abandoned buildings? When the government learns that an area is going to be popular with tourists, it strips the area of any culture, literally tearing down all the historical housing and buildings, replacing it with more concrete blocks, cashing in on the masses. They tear into the earth and build huge roads for hordes of people who are told that this is the next big thing. The banks of the rivers are crumbling and unprotected, the hills sometimes sliding into the new roads, all muddy and full of rocks. Next come the tour buses. They come in droves. Everyone is led from place to place with a silver pole and a red waving flag. It’s like lemmings. When we were at the light show everyone was talking, thousands of people interrupting actors as they tried to entertain. Everyone looked so bored. One guy in the crowd thought it was a good time to exercise, up and down up and down, squat, squat, squat.

It’s hard to get up in the mornings in China. Tearing ourselves away from our warm beds, knowing that we will be cold until it’s bed time again. The beds have heating pads under the sheets. They are such a luxury for the first few hours but then you start to feel like a pot on the verge of boiling. You turn off the heat until the pan cools, sleep for a few hours and repeat the process. Right now I am semi-warm as I type this, feeding the fire with a single painted board that I shove over the coals slowly slowly until the fire eats the board and the rusty nails fall to the bottom of the ashes. Someone comes to change the pan every now and then that collects the ashes. I’m sure I must be inhaling the lead paint that clings to the board. It must be how Chinese people are so skinny here. Their metabolisms work overtime trying to stay warm. I’ve worn the same thing for 2 weeks now and I’m always cold. I’m also tired of wearing the same thing. It hasn’t bothered me until now. I tried to buy a jacket the other day but the XL was barbie size. Speaking of cold, the other day we were standing by the Li River freezing our buns off and this Chinese man comes out of nowhere wearing fireman red squeezers in the freezing air, his breath puffing like smoke, holding not one but two of those old round life preservers. He jumps into the frigid water and proceeds to swim for a good 20 minutes, across the river, up the river, back across the river, around and around. When he came out he smiled like it was an 85 degree day, nodded his head at us and walked off. I guess he wasn’t cold enough? Maybe Chinese are cold blooded? Has anyone checked lately?

Another strange thing is the fact that the Chinese love to put plastic film on all of their car windows. We’ve taken a few vans like this, it’s like looking through a foggy snorkel. Not fun when you are in the car for 10 hours…with no heat, sorry I couldn’t resist.

I like to pride myself on my very honed in charades skills. I was a theatre major after all. The Chinese are not impressed. I have been practicing for 6 months. I thought I was pretty good. The Chinese just stare at me, like why is this idiot flailing about? So I try to simplify my actions, beginners charades, like holding up 5 fingers when purchasing 5 subway tickets. Nope. Just blank stares. I try again. I hold up 1 finger and point to each person and kind of make a grunt sound, maybe sound effects will help enhance my game? Nope.

Taxi’s rarely pickup 5 people in China. They either just keep driving when we flag them down, or stop, look, and drive off. Sometimes in the night time when it’s really cold and we are tired from a day of serious walking and don’t have the energy to navigate the subway system, we flag down taxis and sometimes they actually stop. We jump in quickly hoping that they won’t notice that their is 5 of us because it’s dark. Nash or Hadley trade off ducking down. It’s worked once. The other time we had to pay a bribe. The third time we had to take two taxis. We mostly stick to the subway.

Floating on bamboo boats down the Li river is another thing that is impossible with a family of 5 to do. It’s one of the major reasons for traveling to Yangshuo. Only 2 per boat says the government. No kids float without a parent. It doesn’t take long to do the math on that impossible equation. So we rented bikes instead. We liked it so much we did it twice. We rode along the river, ringing our bells to avoid collisions with farmers, fisherman, tourists, ducks, kids, etc. We rode through small villages where the bamboo raft captains sat around short tables playing cards, cigarettes hanging on the side of their mouths, sitting around small fires poking at the embers, waiting for their next float. The woman jump out in front of us, yelling “bambooo, bamboo”, or they chase us selling crowns of weaved fresh flower, almost knocking us over for a sale. Chickens run out in front of us as they cross the sidewalk. I foolishly hold my breath to avoid the avian flu. They killed all the poultry in Yunnan a few days after we had left. We saw brides and grooms sitting on the bamboo rafts, dresses floating in the water while the camera man splashed water on the giggling couple and the groom kicked and splashed like a young boy. Not phased by the cold or concerned that they were soaked in their wedding best. We saw men with homemade battery packs strapped to their backs attached to bamboo poles, zapping the water with one of the poles, the other hand ready with a net. Eels, snakes, fish? I’m not sure. We saw hordes of Chinese tourists taking selfies in the flowers, posing all fancy by the river, lounging on the path. We saw people harvesting crops, watering crops, and planting crops. We saw water buffalo eating in the fields, pulling their concrete bricks strung through their noses, not wandering too far away. We saw kids riding trikes with a Grandpa, 3 kids stacked on a bicycle doing tricks to impress us, and couples practicing their English hello’s as we rode past. We weren’t sad about the bamboo rafts anymore.

The other day we planned a trip to The Forbidden City in Beijing. Often times we don’t throughly research the places we are going, just winging it has become the norm. The night before we did a quick google search on how to get there via bus and we read that we needed to bring our passports to get in. The bus route was a bust and we forgot our passport to boot, oops. We ended up walking a great distance in the freezing cold, avoiding the slushy snow puddles to keep our only shoes dry. An hour journey in total. We watched as security randomly ask for ID and feared we’d be turned away. We’d give it a go anyways. We lucked out and made it through security. Now to buy the tickets. The line was an hour or more and again they were checking IDs. Soon a very short aggressive Chinese woman spotted us. She was wearing a mauve fur hat, black leather jacket and plaid scarf. She wanted to be our guide for $30. This was out of our budget but without saying anything to each other Justin and I gave each other a knowing glance and haggled a bit, knowing that trip back to get our passport would push the kids and us over the edge. She told us she could get us tickets without ID. We’d give it a go. She quickly tore out a page in her daily calendar and told us to write down our passport numbers and sit down. She physically shoved me onto a wet cold marble bench and yelled at me to wait. I did what she said as she grabbed Justin’s hand and drug him to the front of the hour-long line at the ticket booth, shoving people out of her way as she went. She yelled at Justin and told him to say “2 adults and 3 children,” nothing else. Moments later Justin and captain speedy pants are standing in front of us, tickets in hand and off we go. Our guide is walking so fast that we have to jog to keep up. We try to stay focused on her mauve hat in the sea of people. When we finally catch up she grabs each of us by our arms poking us when she has something to say. She speaks like she walks. FAST! I try to dodge the yellow food particles that come flying out of her mouth. I can’t tell if she’s just eaten some corn of if the plaque embedded between her teeth is loosening due to the speed in which she is hurling her words at us. I try to giggle with my lips shut for fear of the little foreign pieces landing in my mouth. I am on the verge of a total uncontrollable laughing fit. She is a spit fire. I can only hear random things like, “he peed his pants, hahahahaha”. Or, “concubine, hahahaha”. Or, “the Emperor was a very busy man, hahaha”. Between running from spot to spot she takes great interest in the twins, asking a question or two about them while we run. She tells us how Chinese government says 2 children ok now. If you have more they break your house and take your job. I ask what happens if you have twins and already have 1 child. That is ok she says, “Twin is like free baby, you keep twin, hahahaha”. I wanted to ask about the cabs situation, maybe the cabby didn’t know Nash and Hadley were twins? I didn’t plan to have three kids after all, does this make it ok to all squish in a cab now? She wasn’t into answering questions but she ended up being more interesting than The Forbidden City. The rest of the tour was more of the same. The word “concubine” and the phrase “very busy man” and “hahahaha”. We understood less than 1/3 of things she had to say but she thought outside of the box and she giggled and had expression. I think that alone was refreshing enough to forgive her for our lack of understanding virtually 2/3 of what she said.

The translation of things kills me. Like the warning on our bicycles when we took a ride.

TRIP:
please do not overspeed or overload
push it uphill or downhill
riding while drunk and bad health
minor and old people need the guard of the family!

Or the warning sign for the river.

Warning
For your safety. do not swim and have fun in the water. it is pretty deep.

Or this inspirational quote.

Mountain in your eyes
Waters in your eyes
Good memories like homesickness

Or how about these menu items?

Heavy material burning hairtail
The shoe is frozen
Yech red sheep knee bone
The red pillow frog preserved
Pepper hemp money belly
We hand torn bacteria
Stewed bait

Or how about this hotel name?

Stop For The Night Department

All and all, China keeps us on our toes. We constantly have to remind ourselves that we have to mold to fit the culture that we are in. We have to try and not to judge, just observe. We are constantly surprised, amazed, in awe, and confused.

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Made in Yunnan Province, China

by Theo

Cold wind is the only thing that occupies the wide empty street. Tall white buildings sit under a dark night sky. No lights are on in any of the one thousand windows in the small city of one million people.  The town is deserted. Maybe a zombie apocalypse happened? Tornado warning? Maybe there are big pink fluffy unicorns coming from the sky scaring people away?  Nope, this is just an average night. An average night in China.

 
Our hotel is cold, there is no heat in the hallways or the lobby, it seems to be colder than outside. My stomach grumbles, we decide to get food at the hotel restaurant since we have no snacks and there are no grocery stores nearby. We head down to the hotel’s restaurant. It’s below freezing and the the restaurant is not heated! In fact they had the windows wide open! The restaurant is quiet, too quiet, we decide not to eat there so we head out. Past the freezing lobby. A gigantic room, quite fancy, with a tall ceiling and large lights flickering, because of the cold. People sit on chairs hanging out in the cold smoking large cigars that make my throat burn, they stare. Every one of the 20 people. Chinese stare, and when they stare they really stare, it’s so obnoxious. Outside is dark, there are no cars or people. Towering buildings with no lights surround the hotel. Big boxes of ugliness. There is a huge walkway, it is not being used. We walk into a few restaurants, they smell horrific like some combination of gross pork fat and fishy feet. We didn’t even bother to sit down, so we left. We finally found a small building with lights on and a decent smell and a tiny bit of warmth coming from a small fire on the cold tiled floor. There are multiple red booths with big stoves in the middle. Over in the corner are big tanks filled with big fish. People are sitting in the big red booths starring at us as the smoke there cigarettes and slurp some kind of soup. There is no ounce of English. So we try and try and try to order something plain. My dad busts out a translator, my mom points and I stare. Finally we ordered something. I have no clue what I’m going to be eating tonight but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to like it.

 
I few minutes later a lady with a smile on her face comes out carrying something. She has 5 small white bowls with some kind of soup in it. The soup has all sorts of things in it. I realize the soup isn’t steaming. My dad tries it and says it’s cold. Then I hear a sound from my mom meaning she doesn’t like it. Her expression on her face tells me not to try it, so I don’t. Luckily that isn’t what we ordered, the same lady comes out with a big metal bowl with lots of herbs in broth. There is not one kind of herb that I recognize. She sets it on the stove in the middle of the circular table. She turns on the gas stove. We wait in silence. Awkward silence. People stare in silence. Awkward silence. It’s freezing, literally. It’s 32 degrees and I have every layer of clothes I own on me and I’m still cold. I shiver. Finally the soup is boiling so we dish it up in clean bowls that a young kid gives us. I wait. My dad is the bravest. He tries it first. His eyes brighten and a smile forms on his face. I try it, the warmth fills my body. The taste. The taste is good. I can’t explain it, but it’s good. We slurp the soup until it’s gone.

 
The big metal bowl, empty, sits on the table. We sit in our red booth with full stomachs. We try to pay, but no, the night is not done. We get pulled into some sort of photo shoot. The whole restaurant wants a photo with us. We all pose as 20 people take our photos. I look at the cameras and notice everyone taking a picture of us has a big cigar in their mouths. They laugh and laugh as they take our pictures. We try to leave and pay once again but we get pulled back in. Someone wants a picture with Hadley and Nash, then Hadley and me, then Hadley, Nash and me. They take a picture of every combination possible. We try to leave and pay again, but they pull us back in. We laugh and say “no” but they keep clicking away, so we just decide to have fun and go with it.

Finally they leave and we pay the lady who brought us the soup, the owner. She smiles when we give her the money but she waves her hand and says something in Chinese. We try to give her the money again but she gives it back to us. She points to herself. We are confused for a second. Then we understand, she wants to pay for our meal, we tell her no, but she doesn’t accept the money. We say thank you, she smiles, we smile. We leave on a high note. The streets are empty, my stomach is full. The moons shines bright on us as we walk quietly to our hotel. A another adventure awaits tomorrow. Oh gosh, this is literally our second day in China. What’s going to happen tomorrow?

My First Day In Beijing

by Hadley Youngers

After a crazy five days in Yunnan, we were ready for a break in the city of Beijing.  It was dark out and we were tired.  We were at the airport and we found a cab stand.  There was a line and soon we got to the front and got a big cab. The drive felt long and it was really dark out.  We saw a bunch of flashing lights that were all lit up.   We put our bags in and told them where we were going.  Since we didn’t speak Chinese we had to pull up the google translation on the phone and show them where we wanted to go in Chinese.  After awhile of driving I said, “we are in the city of Belljing.”  Theo said, “no, we are in the city of Beijing.”  I don’t get it, still don’t get it, what’s the difference?  I’m still going to call it Belljing.  Soon we were there!

The guy who owned the apartment shook our hands and let us into the big building.  We walked into the lobby and it was huge and looked like an old hotel used to be there.  It was kinda dirty and big and empty and really cold.  We walked some stairs and rode an elevator and got to our apartment.  We walked up a few more stairs and abracadabra, we were there.  The apartment was bigger than I thought it would be.  On the side of a railing was a big grey couch that had decorative pillows.  One had a really weird peacock and another had a fruit tray and one had a flower.  They were weird and turquoise and blue.  In front of the couch there was a glass coffee table with a small grey carpet underneath.  Next to the couch there was a interesting glass desk with a mouse and a key board and a comfy black leather chair that could spin.  Near the glass desk was a bed and book shelf full of books in Chinese.  I found a big dictionary in English.  The bed was in the living room.  Next to the bed there was a TV on top of a white cabinet.  There was another book shelf next to the TV with more books.  Beside the table there was a black cabinet that held pots and a fancy vase and interesting funky stuff and trinity trinks.  The kitchen was different than most kitchens.  It had white tiles that had pictures of chefs wearing tall white chef hats.  Each chef was making food.  They were making pasta, pizza, and seafood.  The kitchen cabinets were white with a small counter.  It also had a fridge and a small pantry with toilet paper and stuff.  It wasn’t that clean, it was kinda dirty.  The bathroom was pinkish red with tiles everywhere.  We had a nice big red shower and a small white sink.  Mommy and Daddy’s room had a white bed and two wood cabinets.  They had a window viewing the city of Beijing.  I still like calling it Belljing but since it’s a blog post I have to be proper.  Me and Nash slept in the bed near the bookshelf in the living room.  Theo slept in a room next to ours that had a sliding door.  We were tired so Mom and Dad kissed us goodnight and turned off the light.  Nash curled up next to me in a ball.  Nash is a crazy sleeper because he always curls up next to you.  I fell asleep fast.

The next day I woke up and it was bright out but no one was up.  I thought it had to be 6 or 7 or maybe 8.  I waited for a bit and soon Dad, Nash and Theo were up, so I got up.  Dad had gone to the store the night before and he bought big water jugs, some bagels and cream cheese, milk, and Rice Krispies.  I had Rice Krispies.  Dad helped me pour them into a bowl. I poured the milk.  I wanted to hear snap, crackle, and pop.  I had a nice first day in Belljing, Beijing.

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Yunnan, Province

by Nash Youngers

I was excited for China because it seemed like it was going to be different from South East Asia.  We flew from Luong, Probong, had a four hour layover in the VNT Airport in Laos.  After that flight we were in China! We had a long dash to get through customs but little did we know that Kunming has lots of fog preventing us from getting to Kunming.  And we waited on the runway for one and a half hours. Then they let us off the plane to wait.  Dad and I went to get dumplings because we didn’t like the food they gave us. So I asked Mom how long we had to wait and she said she didn’t know. We waited for two more hours and then got on the plane and waited for another hour on the runway.  Finally we took off. We got off the plane and went to the hotel as fast as we could in Kunming.

It was the Holiday Inn.  We went to bed.  The next morning we went to the breakfast buffet.  It was huge.  It had dumplings, noodles, sushi, yogurt, pastries, meats, cheese, and more.  Try to guess what I got?  Dumplings!! My favorite.  After that we got into our van.  We had a seven hour drive with one stop to a place called The Stone Forest.  Supposedly it was the first natural wonder of the world, but we are in China, so who knows?  It was really cool.  It was covered in water millions of years ago, so it was rock and coral.  You could see old fish and sea star markings on it. We took a pretty decent sized hike and then got back into the van.  I fell asleep and when I woke up we saw canola flowers.  They are really tall, bright yellow, and thousands of them, fields of them. We got to our hotel and it was freezing.  It was called The Cloud Hotel, but we called it The Cold hotel. There were no heaters and they would leave all the doors open to everything. We wrestled for awhile and then we had to go get dinner.  The hotel looked restaurant looked terrible and the menus were not in English.  So we walked around and found a place.  They only knew hello and they might understand no if you tried to teach them it.  We went to the kitchen and tried things because they didn’t have menus and you had to point to a case of stuff to order. We got a bowl of broth and noodles with vegetables.  On the table it had a big stove and you would put the food on and start boiling the broth.  The people at the restaurant wouldn’t stop taking photos of us.  It was like we were back in a fort in India, but worse. They would not let us pay.  After we finished we went back to The Cold Hotel and slept.  I slept good but Theo slept terrible because there was a big crack in his bed.

We got up and we went to the breakfast buffet.  It was like a tiny Holiday Inn.  They had pretty good noodles, cakes which I ate the most of, fruits which I also ate, yogurt and meats.  Once we finished we got in the car and started driving.  We stopped at a temple and started to climb up a hill.  First off we saw my favorite Lion animals, Singhas.  And once we got to the top it was really pretty seeing the canola flowers with hills poking out.  We walked back down and took a walk in the canola fields.  We found a little spin the wheel where you could win a cheap toy.  Well, in China I guess they have different things, because they had used party favors, used ashtrays and shell toys.  We got a used shell toy with glasses and Mom wished we got an ashtray.  We started to walk on a path that passed bee boxes, cow carts, and canola flowers.  We hiked up on the small hills poking up out of the canola flowers.  At the top it had a pretty view.  We walked back down and we stopped for a delicious Oreo break, a true feast.  We were all tired and of course full from the Oreos. We walked to another hill and climbed it.  Then we went to the van and we were obviously still full.  I thought to myself we had to eat rice noodles and rice for three more nights.  It made me feel really angry.  We went back to The Cold Hotel, relaxed and went to that hot pot restaurant again, we got the same thing with no picture taking this time.  And we actually got to pay.

The next day we took a drive that was suppose to take  6 hours but it was 10 hours in the fog with big gas trucks, natural gas trucks, not the kind of gas you are thinking of.  We had a crazy adventure walk to the guest house.  It was raining. Dad stepped in cow dung. The people put our bags on their head and in baskets.  We got to the guest house and it was freezing and really really dirty.  We got to our room and it was no better.  We went downstairs and had potatoes and rice for dinner.  I only ate potatoes which was very surprising because I usually wouldn’t eat potatoes on a daily basis.  We got up the next morning and it was sunny.  We were all so happy!!  We got ready for the day and had breakfast which was disgusting noodles and eggs.  So I skipped breakfast.  We went down to the rice terraces and started to walk.  It was really pretty and nice but you were always so scared that you were going to fall into the rice fields. If you fell in you’d get drenched and mucky.  Then we went to the van and went to a village.  We were so happy to find a little shop that sold popcorn, pieces of bread, and disgusting processed chocolate bars.  We saw big meat shops in the village, something else I saw that would make people sad if I told them what it was.  We took another 2 hour walk in the rice fields.  We had hardly a foot of space to walk, it was like a balance beam.  If you fell you’d be wet.  We went to a sunset place after that and we had to run down hundreds of flights of stairs to get a good spot.  The spot wasn’t even that good.  We waited for three hours.  We started to be surrounded  by people.  One person didn’t even give Hadley and inch of space.  Her selfie stick was on her head and she was squirming and taking selfies with Hadley every now and then.  Finally Hadley had enough so she moved.  The girl thanked Hadley for the spot.  I think she was just trying to make us move the whole time.  After the sunset it was not a pretty view at all really, it was just like looking at the normal view.  Then we left, got back in the car and had our last night in the guest house.  The next day we were so so so so so SO happy to leave that guest house and go back to The Holiday Inn.  It was a seven hour drive, but we didn’t complain since we could get outta there.  The staff at the guest house were so sweet though.  When we got to the Kunming Hotel we were looking for  Western Cuisine like nobodies business.  We ended up going to O’Rielly’s pub and we had burgers.  The next morning we had the breakfast buffet and flew to Beijing.  We were all really excited to move on from Yunnan Province.  It was a Journey.